Editor's Note: Srini Koushik (above) is keynoting at The Path to Agility on May 20th & 21st at the Ohio Union in Columbus. He will also be a featured guest at After the PATH, the reception event following the conference on May 21st. 

Srini Koushik: Innovation Means Risk
By Terreece Clarke, May 6th, 2014

Srini Koushik, president and CEO of the NTT Innovation Institute Inc. and keynote speaker at The Path to Agility conference on May 20th and 21st at The Ohio Union in Columbus, is a risk taker and a big believer in innovation - just not in the way people typically use the word in IT.

“When people use the word [innovation], it has been focused on the newest gadget, the latest thing,” Koushik said. “I’m talking about another kind of innovation - technology changing your experience. Uber has come to Columbus and the experience is not about the app or the smartphone the app is on...Before, to catch a cab, you had to call the cab or you’d have to go to the desk and have them call a cab for you and wait. In New York you had to learn how to throw your hand up, whistle and try to get the cab to stop. Now [with Uber] I can figure out ahead of time how much it’s going to cost, when it’s going to come...that’s innovation.”

The changing face of user experience is the future of technology, Koushik said.

“The customer has been ‘Apple-ized,” he said. “What Jobs and Apple have done is pay attention to design and use technology to make life easier for people. That’s a shift in how IT thinks. Before, it was about moving that sheet of paper more efficiently, but the user [of the computer] would have a tough time figuring out how to input the information and would think about how much easier it was to go and just hand the paper to their co-worker.”

Looking ahead, Koushik suggests that technology will continue its shift toward being more than just a force for optimization of real world interaction.

“Technology in five to 10 years is going to reach its true potential -- which is giving people back the three things they say they need: more time, more space and to save money...It’s not hard to imagine a time when you use your Uber app and a Google self-driving car shows up. That’s innovation.”

Conquering Fear with Innovation

It’s the innovation of user experience Koushik wants to bring to the forefront of his keynote, “Innovation in an Always-On World.” Koushik said he is concerned that business leaders are focused solely on the technical aspects of business agility and he wants to get them thinking about taking more risks and challenging themselves to think beyond “getting crap built faster.”

Koushik shared one of his favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela to illustrate his philosophy: ‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Facing fear is something Koushik has a lot of experience with, both professionally and personally. Professionally, Koushik walked away from a senior vice president position that came with its own office, bathroom and conference room, to pursue a different career path that lead to his own company, NTT Innovation Institute Inc. The decision came with several trade offs, including having to uproot his family and leave behind a 22-year life in Columbus for California. Risk was rewarded, as the company is now one of the largest research and development companies in the area.

Koushik made a similar risky switch when he was young. He switched from studying to become a doctor in India, to taking one of the first computer science courses available in the country. He cited his love for technology as a child as a driving force behind the switch.

“It all goes back to how things work,” he said. “My friends tell me I would have made a great doctor, because in medicine, like with IT, you have to diagnose the problem and empathize with the user (or patient).”

Koushik encourages his mentees and business leaders to be risk takers as well.

“Sometimes business leaders don’t make the best decisions because of the fear of what can happen. The way to get over fear is to learn how to deal with it,” he said.